If you wanted to know what it's like to walk on the moon, you'd interview an astronaut. If you wanted insights on playing Hamlet, you'd study the performance of a Shakespearean actor. And if you wanted to know what the first year of teaching school is like, well . . . you'd ask teachers who just completed their first year on the job. We wanted to know and we asked.
This book attempts to capture the fascinating and inspiring answers we received. It is based largely on a series of discussions held among winners of the First Class Teacher Award sponsored every year by Sallie Mae, a corporation dedicated to education. As in years past, first-year teachers who won the award came to Washington, DC in the fall for a weekend of awards and related events.
One activity that grew out of the awards is a series of focus group discussions, which the U.S. Department of Education facilitated. These discussions are valuable debriefing sessions that allow us to ask exemplary first-year teachers some key questions: What was it like the first year? What were your toughest challenges, your greatest rewards? Did you get the right preparation? Do you have any insights you could offer new teachers?
The teachers talked in frank terms about what it's like to feel rebuffed by veteran teachers, to struggle with budget cutbacks, to see children in distress. But the obstacles they related are only half the story. They also told us how they surmounted challenges, what they would want new teachers to know, and why being a teacher is so crucial to their sense of self. All together, their words paint a picture of an inspired and inspiring group of up-and-coming leaders in their profession. We believe their reflections will prove helpful to principals, administrators, university professors in education departments, and particularly, new teachers who are gearing up to face the first day of school. What to Expect Your First Year of Teaching is built on the words and recollections of award-winning, first-year teachers. We have used direct quotations from teachers (with their permission), both from the focus group sessions and from a set of essays they wrote. We felt their voices needed to be heard as directly as possible. Our job was to present their insights in a way that would be useful for readers. What follows is our effort to do so.
Thank you for your interest, and we welcome your response.
Sharon A. Bobbitt, Ph.D.
Director, Knowledge Applications Division
U.S. Department of Education